#2 A Players Program: UNLV - Tucson News Now

#2 A Players Program: UNLV

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TUCSON, AZ (AP) -

Each of the last four weeks, Arizona has moved up in the poll.

One more victory could vault Sean Miller's club to the top spot.

The No. 2 Wildcats look to take advantage of a loss by the top-ranked team and make their case for No. 1 as they host UNLV on Saturday.

Arizona (8-0) was ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll, and spent a week ranked fifth and fourth before ascending to No. 2 with last Friday's win over Duke in championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. With top-ranked Michigan State falling to North Carolina on Wednesday, Arizona could be the new No. 1 for Monday's poll, a distinction it last held March 10, 2003.

While the Wildcats would seem to be the favorite to take over the top spot, they first need to get by UNLV (3-3).

The Runnin' Rebels, a No. 5 seed in last season's NCAA tournament, have lost both of their games to teams from power conferences, including a setback to Arizona State, which was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12. They are coming off their best performance of the season, though, shooting 55.6 percent and amassing a 46-32 rebounding edge in an 85-55 win over Tennessee-Martin.

UNLV will be hard-pressed to duplicate those numbers against the Wildcats.

Arizona is one of the nation's top defensive teams, holding opponents to an average 59.3 points and 35.8 percent shooting. It's also outrebounding opponents by 14.4 per game, one of the country's best marks.

In Tuesday's 79-58 victory over Texas Tech, the Wildcats owned a 43-23 edge in rebounds. Despite the lopsided win, Miller wasn't overly impressed. Arizona had 10 turnovers in a sloppy first half and didn't put away Texas Tech until after halftime.

''No question we could have played better at times,'' Miller said, ''but it's a long season and it's difficult to ask for perfection in every game from start to finish.''

While the performance fell short of his expectations, Miller praised the play of Nick Johnson.

The NIT Season Tip-Off's MVP had 18 points and made a career-best 4 3-pointers in 6 attempts. He is shooting 53.7 percent from the floor and has led Arizona in scoring in four of the last six games.

''I will tell you this,'' Miller said. ''There aren't many guards that are playing college basketball that are more important to their team or any better than Nick Johnson right now.''

Aaron Gordon shined at times Tuesday with a season-best 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with eight rebounds, but he was 4 of 12 from the free throw line. The highly touted freshman is averaging 13.0 points and 9.1 rebounds but converting only 48.8 percent of his foul shots.

"He's on his way to getting better, he just needs to stay with it," Miller said. "He's a great player and one thing about him is he works really hard and he'll improve."

In addition to being stout on defense, Arizona is also one of the nation's top shooting teams at 51.3 percent. Sophomore forward Brandon Ashley is shooting a team-best 63.2 percent and averaging 11.9 points, while freshman reserve Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 8.8 points and 59.5 percent shooting.

UNLV is led by Bryce Dejean-Jones, who is averaging 12.8 points in five games after missing the opener with a hamstring strain. The junior guard is one of four Rebels averaging at least 11.0 points.

Arizona suffered a 74-72 overtime loss to UNLV in the last meeting in 2009, but the Rebels were ranked 24th at the time while the Wildcats were playing their seventh game under Miller.

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